A chap started chatting to me in a cafe this week, perhaps struck by the ungainly sight of the one-armed glasses balanced on my nose. He told me he got all his spectacles made up while on business trips to China because of the high-cost of having a prescription filled in New Zealand.

At the risk of provoking tut-tutting from the optometry profession, I wish I was heading that way, too. Instead I am off to America this week, with the one-armed glasses I can't read without. Eight days after I booked in for an urgent update, the replacement pair isn't ready. That's a pair I have paid well over $900 for, without new frames because I thought I'd limit the expense by recycling an old set. Given how much these cost, if I had opted for new frames on top of the eye examination and progressive lens then I would have been up for the price of my return airfare.

To be fair to the optometrist concerned I was warned it would be touch and go turning them around in time, but it is hard not to think back to an editorial a Herald colleague wrote a few years back that got the profession up in arms. Its basic thesis was that we are all being ripped off. Since that was written, competition in the prescription glasses market has stepped up, but those enticing advertisements of two pairs for not too much don't really apply to anyone who needs serious help with their sight.

How some people cope I don't know. Probably by buying cheapie readers from the chemist. I got a set of these magnifiers in the hope I could manage with them for a few days to enable the broken arm on my real glasses to be repaired, but while they let me make out a menu I couldn't manage to focus properly on the computer for long enough to do my job.


Bitching about the cost of replacing my glasses may seem a bit of a first world problem given that many people probably can't afford to do this at all. I did shop around. In fact, I switched optometrist because I thought I had been paying Ponsonby prices, only to find they were pretty much the same on the Shore side of the bridge. I got quotes from the two biggest chains which weren't that much different and although I could have had the second set deal a "budget" chain offers, I actually want to get the one-armed frames back in action. Having broken the other side already, I know pininng and rewelding the arm will cost under $100, but it will probably entail a wait because the repair business is, I'm told, snowed under.

The funny thing in all of this is my itemised account revealed that the actual eye examination was not a particularly expensive part of the equation. I don't begrudge highly trained optometrists charging for their time, it's cheaper than the dentist's and they both have a lot of expensive equipment to maintain. But what about the other 800? Maybe glass grinding is the job to go for.

The high cost of living in New Zealand is a price most of us are prepared to pay, but the rise in people seeking out dental treatments, appearance medicine and new glasses overseas says something. Going offshore, especially for dental and medical services, carries risk. It isn't something I have seriously considered before, but right now I am seeing red.